John Seel understands how culture works better than anyone I know. His sane thinking never ceases to amaze me. This lecture entiteld It’s the Culture Stupid: Reflections on the Challenge of Cultural Influence was first given at the Boston L’Abri and subsequently republished in Think, a publication of Cardus (formerly the Work Research Foundation), a Canadian think tank that seeks to foster a Christian view on work and public life, and later published in Provocations, the online journal of The Trinity Forum. As I’ve mentioned before, John is a cultural renewal entrepreneur, educational reformer, and writer. He and his wife, Kathryn, live in Cohasset, Massachusetts.
What I found particularly helpful in this lecture was John’s excellent explanation of the cultural mandate. He said:
The creation mandate has three aspects summarized by the three words: fruitful, fill, and subdue. “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” This mission statement answers the what, where, and how of the human enterprise. It describes what it means to be human.
The substance of the task is captured in the words “be fruitful.” Its “what” is the twin obligation of procreativity and cultural creativity. We have a responsibility to create life and to generate a life-affirming, life-sustaining culture in its widest variety – from making babies to making music, from family life to civic life.
The scope of the task is expressed in the words, “fill the earth.” Its “where” is all creation. Ours is a global responsibility – “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This witness encompasses an ecological responsibility: over every living creature in the sea, in the air, and on land. This witness is both extensive (geographically, all nations) as well as intensive (sociologically all of culture). Our task is both wide and deep – every nation, all of culture.
Finally, our stewardship of creation is expressed in the words “subdue” and “rule.” Its “how” is one of authority and leadership. Neither abdication nor domination is an expression of faithfulness. The force of the imperative is not control over, but care for. We are responsible to cultivate, prune, and husband nature, thereby enabling its full potential to glorify its Creator. Our aim is not merely environmental “sustainability,” a hands-off policy of an unkept wilderness, but rather creational “vitality,” a thoughtful active investment of ourselves in nature’s rich inherent potential – a weeded garden in full bloom, a landscaped city filled with music and art.
Have you ever read a better explanation of the cultural mandate? Read his whole lecture here.